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Fusion Design Contestants

Designer Leda del Castillo was born in San Jose, Costa Rica, but her path to Orlando wasn’t a direct one: She spent an intervening 10 years living in California and New Mexico. Now that she’s here, she’s enjoying the ability to pop back to Costa Rica frequently (it’s just a 2-1/2 hour flight, she notes), whether to visit with relatives or just immerse herself in the traditions of her culture.

In Orlando, she’s savoring the opportunity to hone her work costuming performers for both live and filmed appearances. “My main focus is in creating beautiful and functional costumes to inspire entertainers on stage or in front of the camera to freely perform their talent,” she says.

The pieces she’s contributing to FusionFest 2019 were designed for “Wakanda Forever: A Dancer’s Journey,” a recent program performed by Step One: The Dance Project Inc. The collection represents a young dancer’s foray into the “dream world” of Wakanda and across the continent of Africa. There, the young heroine is welcomed as royalty, in a meeting of cultures that has allowed designer del Castillo to show off her facility with both traditional and contemporary styles.

An Orlando resident for the last seven years, Milena Kane came here with an extensive pedigree already built up as a world traveler. She was “born in a little town in Moldova during Soviet times,” into a family that had Ukrainian, Jewish, Czech, Romanian and Italian blood. Her first move was to Odessa, Ukraine at the age of 16; at 22, she arrived in New York and immediately recognized America as her country.

Milena has lived in major U.S. cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix, but it’s Orlando that has her favorite diversity of cultures, weather and entertainment options. And it’s a great place for her relatives to visit during Christmas.

Fashion has been her passion since a very early age: Where she once designed colorful clothing for her dolls, she now makes dresses, jewelry and headpieces. For FusionFest 2019, she’s contributing a garment that sets off Russian/Ukrainian/Gypsy scarves and flower crown headpieces with statement jewelry. It’s wearable as a modern traditional costume, she says, or at a special event, presentation or international pageant. “It’s a statement piece!” she promises. We’re listening.

Ashleigh Renee Mausser is a second-generation Hungarian American whose great-grandparents, grandmother and great aunt caught the last boat coming here from the old country during World War II. They settled in Cleveland, Ohio, but Ashleigh herself was born and raised here in Orlando. And it’s here where, under her AshrockArt brand, she has flourished as a painter, a henna artist and most recently a designer of women’s accessories.

“I have had six runway shows around Orlando,” she says, “including producing Orlando’s Longest Fashion Runway for Immerse 2018.”

At Fusion Fest this year, she’ll show designs that nod simultaneously to her Hungarian roots and the “chic French style” of Canada. That fusion will be seen in capes inspired by traditional Hungarian clothing, with bright flower patterns and fascinators meant to represent the “vintage, classic and timeless” styles of the French.

“I am so in love with my city Orlando!” Ashleigh says. “The city gives great opportunity to local artists and has helped me accomplish my dreams and goals.” 

Londa Msanii was born in Buffalo, New York, into a family Southerners who had moved to the Northeast. But she said she was “taught about the beauty and rich cultures of Africa at an early age,” and it’s that influence that informs her present-day work as a fashion designer.

 “The bright colors in the fabric prints and beading techniques always spoke to me, and had such an impact on how I see fashion,” she says. “I am able to incorporate these colors and techniques into my designs. My love of art and culture can always be seen in my work.”

At FusionFest, Londa will be presenting looks that combine those African elements with Japanese styling – “particularly some Massai beading incorporated with fur and kimono-type designs.”

Now an Orlando resident for the second time (she lived here for 10 years after high school), she balances her fashion-world endeavors by working to raise awareness of thyroid cancer. Her favorite aspect of living in the City Beautiful, she says, is “its diversity and exposure to culture. I am able to stay connected through family tradition, as well as available information, to help me grow.”

Calling himself an “all-American guy from the south who loves fashion,” Michael Ransom II hails from Lexington, South Carolina. But his heritage is a true mix of ethnicities, incorporating everything from Central and West African to British and Norwegian. He’s been an Orlando resident since he moved here in 2006 at the age of 21, thus fulfilling a childhood dream.

During his brief stint with a modeling agency, he was told he would never walk runway, due to being 2 inches too short. So he got a bachelor’s degree in fashion design and merchandising, in the process developing his own philosophy of fashion: “It must be fun yet functional, while telling the viewer a story without saying a word.”

Michael is showing two pieces at FusionFest this year: One garment is inspired by an African elephant, with the animal’s ear on the back of the piece and the tusks on its shoulders. The other is a gown inspired by the looks of Europe, Africa and the Native American nations.

“Being of slave ancestry, I never learned our heritage or roots from either country,” he says. “That’s why I love learning, because I can create my own idea of heritage.”

For over 10 years, the Peru Art organization has celebrated its titular culture with showcases of authentic dance, music and food from the various regions of Peru. And for those who are unable to attend, the group makes regular visits to nursing homes, delighting the residents with colorful presentations that are rich in Peruvian tradition.

Typically, the group’s dance performances feature beautiful and elaborate clothing made only in Peru. At this year’s Fusion Fest, they’ll be showcasing a piece inspired by their director, Italo, and handmade in their home country by wardrobe mistress Aurora Alvinez. It’s a dress that fuses Egyptian stylings with those of the Peruvian Moche and Incan civilizations. Featuring two pieces painted by Peruvian artist Miluska Pantigoso, the garment plays up the similarities between the represented cultures, which not only shared a spiritual focus but assigned great importance to the influence of women and nature.

Having made a splash with a pair of original dress designs at last year’s inaugural FusionFest, 10-year-old Annada Vergo is back with another two that further her twin commitments to smart design and social justice.

Annada describes herself as a fifth -generation immigrant on both sides of her family (Sweden via her mother and German via her father), and her 2019 offerings denote even more globe-trotting. One is a U.S./Ethiopian fusion dress made from handwoven fabric her father brought back from the latter country; it’s Annada’s tribute to a milestone that was reached there last year, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appointed a cabinet that was 50 percent women. The other is fashioned from hand-painted cloth Annada’s aunt obtained in Papua, New Guinea, and serves as the designer’s statement about the epidemic of domestic violence against women in that country (and here, too).

“I believe it is important for everyone to feel safe in their own home,” Annada says. “The brilliant colors of this dress are my interpretation of light growing stronger despite the violence that may be hidden behind it.”

Fusion Design Judges

Honorary Consul of France in Orlando, FL.

VP, Talent Director for Fierce Entertainment Management, model and style blogger. Starr Dalton is a Florida native. Her father is from Brazil and her mother is Native American, from Tennessee. As VP, Talent Director for Fierce Entertainment, Starr is actively enhancing Central Florida’s fashion and entertainment scene.

She has been working for Fierce Entertainment Management since 2014. Starr works directly with models and designers to bring exposure to their talents and products. She assists in many areas, such as casting calls and supporting designers administratively by emailing model selections. She is also involved with event promotions, photo selections for social media and writing blogs.

Starr’s background is in interior décor; she went to school from 2007-2010 while securing a position at Ethan Allen for four years. She realized her passion for fashion when working as a model /event coordinator for a local designer. As design coordinator, she gained hands-on experience recruiting vendors, photographers, musical talent, designers and models for a fashion show, instantly falling in love with the entire process. In 2014, she worked as a personal assistant at a model and talent agency in Lakeland; she recruited and interviewed talent and reviewed and selected the best photos from photoshoots for model comp cards. All of these experiences gave her the tools to be successful in her position today.

Hozumi is originally from Japan and has been a model scout for 20+ in fashion industry.

ha'ani hogan

Ha’Ani Hogan is an arts administrator, scholar, and creative. A strong believer in the importance of creative placemaking, she applies this concept to her professional and academic work.

Hogan joined the Downtown Arts District (DAD) team as the Development Manager in 2015 after working in development at the Orange County Regional History Center. Her main responsibilities are the cultivation, stewardship, and retention of donors. She coordinates DAD’s fundraising campaigns, writes/manages grants, and plans the organizations’ s annual fundraising events.

Prior to the Orange County Regional History Center, Hogan worked with numerous arts organizations in Savannah, GA including the Savannah Civic Center, Savannah Children’s Theatre, Savannah Ballet Theatre, and the Savannah Film Festival.

Hogan is pursuing a Ph.D. in Texts and Technology at the University of Central Florida. Her research revolves around how advancements in technology are influencing art practices and businesses. She specifically enjoys studying the impacts of public art and how it can be used to educate communities, enhance economic development, and influence social change. Hogan earned an M.A. in Arts Administration with an emphasis in Special Events and Fundraising from the Savannah College of Art and Design. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in Art History and a minor in Costume Design.

Hogan is a member of Americans for the Arts, United Arts of Central Florida’s Emerging Arts Leaders, and Athena NextGen. She also served as a member of the Orlando City Soccer Club’s Fan Advisory Council. She currently serves as a steering committee member for FusionFest, representing the island of Guam.

In her “spare time,” Hogan enjoys sewing, watching soccer with her family, and running her flower crown business, Lady Lion Creations.

Nadege Ngongo-Wilson was born in the Republic of Congo (Central Africa). Although she comes from humble beginnings, both her parents were into a variety of businesses at a very young age.

Nadege was exposed to the worlds of art and fashion: Her mother was what you’d call old-time Hollywood, with her strong sense of style, her knowledge of haute couture and her strong passion for all things vintage and glamorous. When Nadege moved to France, it opened up a whole new world for her in fashion.

Nadege holds a B.A in fashion merchandising  and retailing. She has worked for several luxury-goods firms, such as Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Ave. and Neiman Marcus, and has held the positions of designer specialist, business manager, personal shopper and stylist. Nadege has visited most of the fashion districts of the world.

Nadege lives and breathes fashion. In  2015, she opened Ce tres Chic, a fashion consulting company specializing in personal shopping, styling, closet edit, fashion-show production, glam-squad and related projects. She has also collaborated with designers like Maison Salvatore Ferragamo, Robert Graham, YSL, and Roberto Cavalli. Newly added is an online boutique; her motto is “Chic-Elegant-Affordable.”

Her website is; follow her on Instagram @chiccetres

Orlando-based visual artist and designer Devinder Singh Malhan has been reinventing his creative eye ever since his origins in Calcutta, the capital of India’s modern artistic, literary, cultural and educational movements. As an adolescent, Malhan first garnered recognition for his drawings and paintings of prophets, who are highly revered by various Indian cultures.

Devinder’s 2019 “Human Faces” collection is a Neo-Impressionism series featuring oil, charcoal, and acrylic on canvas. His social commentary looks at urban landscapes reflected within the human form and the reflection of place through emotion—an introspective glance through the constructed environment of our cities.

After moving to Orlando, FL at age 18, Devinder opened a successful boutique on Park Avenue, which ran for 15 years. Inspired further by design, Malhan attended The Rhode Island School Of Design (RISD).

 A 2001 backpacking trip through India in which he observed the country’s intricately woven textiles and beadwork motivated Devinder to launch his own design line, KC Malhan. KC Malhan designs have been featured in Vogue UK, GQ UK, Cosmopolitan UK, Oprah, People, Redbook and Times of India.

Born in Mandeville Jamaica and raised in South Florida, Nicole Smith has been surrounded by and immersed in multiple cultural influences her entire life. With a deep love for the Caribbean, South American, and African influences she has infused these into her creative expression and artwork. As a model and jewelry artisan she felt the deep desire to create her own works of arts that resonated with her cultural and spiritual beliefs. In 2014, she founded URBAN MYSTICS in Orlando, FL, a brand and movement with a mission to unite multiple cultures to spread light, expand consciousness, and exchange positive vibes through handmade gemstone jewelry and community involvement. As a community leader, she finds great importance in creating safe spaces for cultural individuals to celebrate and express their artistry and influences.

Fashion Heritage Showcase

      • Haiti by Nattacha Wylie – This is a traditional Haitian dress called a Karabela. Made from a material known as Siam, it’s commonly worn by country folks, entertainers and practitioners of the voodoo religion.

      • India by Usha Jain/Manohar Jain – Here’s a look at what a typical Indian couple might wear to a big event. The lady’s Lahenga Saree is made from silk and chiffon, in a sacred red that makes it suitable for special occasions and get-togethers. The gentleman is wearing a formal Sherwani that’s traditionally seen at weddings and other celebrations.

      • Iraq by Joudy Barakat – This modern dress from Iraq is handmade and embroidered from pure cotton and silk. The machinework in the middle adds a modern touch. This dress can be worn to dinners and social gatherings.

      • Jamaica by Ashawnie Phinn – Everyday life in Jamaica is celebrated in this colorful outfit inspired by folklorist, poet and broadcast personality Louise Bennett. The bright two-piece and authentic accessories honor the respect for ordinary people that made Bennett the mother of Jamaican culture.

      • Japan by Mayuko Ishikura – This authentic Japanese outfit dates to the country’s Edo period of four centuries ago. Originally worn by carpenters, it became a touchstone of cool that’s now sported at festivals, with the addition of a Hanten or Happi coat that represents the crest of a family.

      • Jordan by Natalie Barakat – Handmade from chiffon and with beautiful summer colors, this modern thob dress hails from Amman, the capital of Jordan. It’s perfect for wearing to daytime gatherings and parties.

      • Jordan by Sadeen Alshorman/ Palestine by Saleem Shahwan – These kids are showing their own Middle Eastern flair. The young lady is in a dress that’s distinctly Jordanian, while the young man’s traditional Palestinian outfit includes a thawb robe, shirwal trousers and a kofieh scarf.

      • Jordan by Marah Barakat – Cotton is the base material of this hand-embroidered dress from the nation of Jordan. It’s usually meant for large parties and gatherings, and not for everyday wear.

      • Mali by Kadidia Kone-Merchant – The African nation of Mali contributes this colorful “Bazin Galala fini,” which is hand made from 100 percent cotton. It’s traditionally worn by Malian women, but only for important occasions like weddings, baptisms and even presidential elections.

      • Panama by Mariana Gibbs – From the Las Tablas region of Panama comes this dress, called a Montuna Santena. Its striking colors are set off by delicate braid work and other accessory materials like chains, buds, combs and earrings.

      • Peru by Cynthia Liu – This traditional Peruvian dress is used for the Wititi dance, a courtship ritual performed during religious festivities. The embroidered skirt, chiffon blouse and bodice jacket highlight the perfect female silhouette. The elegant look is topped with a hat made of macora straw.

      • Peru by Kayth Sanchez – A product of Peruvian slave culture, this outfit is worn to dance the Morenada, a highland folk dance associated with the mining trade. From the feathered cone hat all the way down to the boots, it’s a genuine “costume of lights.”

      • Russia by Aleksandra Vargas – This traditional costume is the national dress of Russia. It’s built on a blue silk jumper dress called a sarafan, with a printed cotton rubaha shirt and a beaded headdress known as a kakoshnik. It’s worn on special holidays and for folk performances.

      • Russia by Anna Antonova – This traditional woman’s costume is handmade and represents a very important feature of Russian folk culture. It’s another outfit combining a traditional Sarafan dress and kokoshnik headdress.

      • Russia by Tatiana Chichugova – Entirely handmade, this sundress, or Sarafan, shows the elegance and tradition of the Nothern regions of Russia. The sleeve decorations are not only decorative, but protect the wearer from evil and spells.

      • Tahiti by Tee Buchin – This traditional more (pronounced ‘moh-day’) skirt represents the Islands of Tahiti. It’s made from hau (pronounced ‘how’), a variety of hibiscus bark. The adornments are hand sewn from shells like mother of pearl. This garment is typically worn for ceremonies and entertainment events.

      • United Arab Emirates/Morocco by Safaa Barakat – Representing the Arab Muslim world, this ladies’ outfit features an open robe-like dress from the United Arab Emirates that’s called an abaya. It’s being worn over a red Qaftan that’s traditional attire in Morocco.

      Brazil by Chico Santos

      Colombia by Hernando Acuña & Maria Fernanda Saavedra

      Ghana by Akosua Nunes

      India by Simi Aje

      Jamaica by Christina Campbell

      Jamaica by Padina Campbell

      Puerto Rico by Gordy Jiménez

      Puerto Rico by Yizelle Ramos

      Ukraine by Milena Kane

      Zaina Al Khairy